A Weekend on the Estate        contact: McKenzie Merriman, merrimanmckenzie@gmail.com                                

A Weekend on the Estate

by

McKenzie Merriman

Contact:

McKenzie Merriman

merrimanmckenzie@gmail.com

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Natalie- late 20’s, female . Essential skills: improvisation, audience engagement

        Main character. Dramatic, bored, and delirious.

Husband-mid 30’s, male. Essential skills: improvisation, audience engagement

        Her husband.

Kolya-early teens, male/female/non-binary *

        Their child.

Michael-late 20’s, male. Essential skills: improvisation, audience engagement

        Their friend, tutor of the child. Tortured heart.

Alex- early 20’s, male/female/non-binary*

        New, uninterested tutor.

Vera- late teens/early 20’s, female

        Ward of the estate.

Sascha- late 40’s, male/female/non-binary*

        The neighbor.

Two housekeepers that facilitate audience engagements and intermission entertainment, referred to within as HK, (HK1 and HK2.) Essential skills: character acting, improvisation, audience engagement, singing, musical instruments.*

*modify all pronouns to actor’s preference  

ACT I

Space installed as half garden, half sitting room. The action of the first act takes place in the sitting room. There is a large ornate rug, a wooden table where people are playing cards, a variety of seating for the audience. There are bookshelves, cupboards and end tables with trinkets and details, lace doilies, wood-framed pictures, lamps, letters, instruments, a large clock, an ottoman, and other various dusty trinkets that would conceivably be found on the estate. Music is playing, if from a record player it is managed by the Housekeepers. Natalie is doing needlework, Michael has a book in his hands, and Vera, Sascha and HK are playing a board game at the table. Alex and Kolya are out on a walk.

                                                                                           

MICHAEL

Reading aloud from Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

NATALIE

You know? I’m not really enjoying this book.

MICHAEL

Then why do you keep asking me to read it to you?

NATALIE

Michael, you should see the look on peoples’ faces when I tell them, ‘No, I’ve never read that wonderful Infinite Jest book everyone’s been raving about’. They’re absolutely foaming at the mouth. So I figured I’d go ahead and read it once and for all to see what all the fuss is about.....you can keep going.

Michael resumes reading, Natalie flirts with him, playfully touching him with her feet while doing her needlework,. The card game continues, the players briefly interacting with audience members. As the flirtation becomes too much, Michael stops reading.  

NATALIE

By the way, have you seen my son recently?

MICHAEL

Yes, I did actually. He was rustling through that trunk over there a few hours ago and I reminded him that there’s a math lesson we still have a lesson to review before Monday if we want to stay on track… he didn’t seem too concerned about it, though.

NATALIE

Dismissively Well, he’s got time… Hey! Vera! Do you have any idea where Kolya went?

VERA

Kolya went on a walk with the new tutor, looking for sticks I think.

Lighting shifts romantically, music stops. Natalie and Michael both perk up, but for different reasons.

MICHAEL

Skeptically New tutor?

NATALIE

Thrilled Alex is here?

 Natalie’s attention snaps to Michael, lighting and music return.

 NATALIE

Oh, yeah… I may have hired another tutor without consulting you… but he interviewed so well...

 MICHAEL

Yeah, I’m sure he did. What kind of tutor?

NATALIE

A Russian tutor

MICHAEL

An old Russian tutor?

 

NATALIE

No, a young Russian tutor. What’s with all these questions? He’s only for the summer.

MICHAEL

Sarcastically Wonderful, I can’t wait to see what that does for Kolya’s Russian you suddenly care about so deeply.

NATALIE

Oh, I have always been invested in Kolya’s Russian! And they’ve really hit it off-- already out, looking for sticks together! When was the last time you took the kid for a walk?

MICHAEL

I’m his math tutor.

NATALIE

Rolling her eyes Right, of course… Regardless,  Alex will be a great addition to the estate, he’s active, creative, introspective …handsome.

MICHAEL

Groaning Oh, come on. Why are you persecuting me today?

 

NATALIE

Laughs No, but seriously, do pay him some attention. I think he has the makings of a very nice man. Although God knows, one can never tell. They share a look, his puppy dog eyes meet her laughing gaze. Now, would you keep reading?

He continues. Natalie does her needlework for a second, becomes disinterested, and gets up to start interacting with audience members, greeting guests and revealing secrets about the room. The housekeepers pass out shot glasses and ask guests if they’d rather have vodka or water,  directing audience members to their program, which instructs them to signify which shot they prefer by holding up two fingers for vodka, and three fingers for water. Audience members under 21 only receive the water shot. This takes less than 2 minutes, with Michael reading out loud all the while, checking to see if Natalie is listening. Natalie occasionally interjecting with the story to keep him going. Vera collects the doilies off of all the tables.  Finally, Vera approaches Natalie and gives her the basket of doilies.

 

NATALIE

You can just put those over there.

Vera puts the basket wherever Natalie instructs her. Vera exits. Michael stops reading. Natalie is staring off.

 

MICHAEL

You’re bored.

 

NATALIE

What? No I’m not! Why do you think so?

MICHAEL

Because I can tell! You’re horrible at concealing your boredom … and I can especially tell when you get bored of me.

NATALIE

Oh, please. How could I be bored with you!? She rushes to him with a playful hug. You’re my closest friend, I love you with all my heart! You know it.

MICHAEL

As if the people you love don’t bore you!

 

Enter her husband, Michael jumps, Natalie cooly steps away from Michael.

HUSBAND

Aloof. Hello, everyone.

He greets a few people, goes through some mail, hangs up his coat. Natalie gets up, greets her husband gives him a peck on the cheek.

NATALIE

Disinterested So, where have you been all day?

HUSBAND

Just checking out an issue with a pipe in the field with the foreman…You know, work.

NATALIE

Uninterested. Wonderful. Did you see Kolya out there?

HUSBAND

I did, he was climbing trees with some young, blonde person

NATALIE

Glowing Oh, great! That’s his new tutor.

HUSBAND

What, is Michael leaving or something?

He looks over his wife's shoulder at Michael, who is awkwardly reading to himself.

NATALIE

No, he’s not going anywhere… I just figured we could have the two for the summer.

HUSBAND

Well...Whatever you think is best… he kisses her cheek.  I better head out, I have to meet with a contractor to fill a few cracks at the base of the foundation.

A stale goodbye, he leaves with Sascha, who has indeed been there the whole time. Once they’re gone, Natalie exhales

NATALIE

Put that book away for christ’s sake.

She pulls out a bottle of vodka and a carafe of cold water. Michael puts on a more lively record.

 

MICHAEL

It’s so hard to find alone time in this house.

INTERLUDE I

HK1 and HK2 enter and the audience is prompted to signify which shot they want, Housekeepers pour drinks for everyone. Natalie wanders around, approaches one audience member, and they come up with a toast. The room toasts and takes the shot together.

 

MICHAEL

To Natalie You are in rare form today

NATALIE

How so?

MICHAEL

I don’t know, you’re playful, prodding… there's a different light in your eyes.

He grabs her hand. She sighs, as if burdened.

NATALIE

Oh, Michael… you really are the best. I don’t know where I would be without our friendship. I’m so grateful for your presence in my life.

The moment lingers, he almost goes in for a kiss, they embrace

NATALIE

Shall we?

She gestures to the Garden, and the light shifts. They go through the garden door, where the scene continues. There is a large berry bush, garden furniture, ivy, They sit, talk a bit. Then Vera, Kolya and Alex come into the garden, holding a kite. 

NATALIE

What do we have here?

KOLYA

A kite, mama! Alex helped me put it together after our walk, we gathered the sticks from out back and everything!

NATALIE

Alex! So glad you’re here already, we’ve all been anxiously awaiting your arrival, and it’s so nice to see you and Kolya are already getting into some fun together. By the way, I think you should meet my dear friend, and Kolya’s math tutor, Michael.

She gestures to Michael to join the conversation, and puts her arm through Alex’s as she introduces the two.

ALEX

Nice to meet you, Michael. Just let me know what times you prefer to do lessons with Kolya, I’m pretty flexible. 

Alex unlinks his arm from Natalie’s and joins Vera and Kolya as they admire the kite.

NATALIE

Vera… why don’t you go lay out the lace?

VERA

Surprised Right now?

NATALIE

Yes. Right now.

Vera pouts, returns to the sitting room and picks up the basket of doilies from where she put them down earlier, and puts them back on the tables. Once done, she exits through the sitting room.

NATALIE

To Michael and Kolya You know? While you both are free, you should get to work on that math lesson Michael mentioned earlier.

Michael and Kolya both pout, and exit through the sitting room. Alex and Natalie are alone.

NATALIE

So. Alex. How are you liking it here? Kolya sure has taken a liking to you. I mean, can you blame him? That kite is marvelous!

ALEX

Well, it’s only been a day, but things have been really great, Vera and Kolya are already great friends to me, and your Husband’s land is remarkable, I mean it when I say very thankful for this job.

NATALIE

That’s great to hear that everyone here has welcomed you in with open arms.

 

ALEX

Yeah.

NATALIE

So… you have a lot of friends back in Petersburg?

ALEX

Not necessarily, I mostly keep to myself. He gets up from beside her and approaches the raspberry bush, collecting a basket of berries.

NATALIE

Oh god, me too. I’m usually just sitting around in there.  Points to sitting room. Just thinking about things, coming up with interesting stories, you know. Very creative things. Is that what’s it’s like for you in Petersburg?

ALEX

Honestly, I don’t know what to tell you. I try to take it one day at a time, no matter where I am.

He puts down the basket of berries and exits

 

NATALIE

Hmph. Unsarcastically. That went well… He’s the most beautiful thing to come through this house in ages. And I’m so glad that he can help our poor child with his language. I mean, just look at the miracles Michael has done to the kid’s math scores… but if I could figure out how to get that young tutor attention to yearn for me the same way...

She lingers in sexual silence, but is suddenly surprised by the entrance of Sascha from within the raspberry bush.

SASCHA

That’s a hell of a predicament you got there, ma’am

NATALIE

Sascha! Good lord. What predicament?

SASCHA

You know what I’m talking about. That foxy young thing, I think that’s what you called him. Isn’t the attention of your husband enough?

NATALIE

Oh, my husband. I didn’t know you were there, I was just talking to myself about nothing in particular, just forget I said anything.

SASCHA

Even if I could help you out?

NATALIE

Please, how are you going to help me? Appeal to the boy on my behalf!? I’m a very smart woman, if I wanted to secure his affection, I could.

SASCHA

Even with Vera around taking all of his attention?

NATALIE

Vera has nothing to do with this.

SASCHA

I don’t know, Natalie. They’re both young, much younger than you or I, and seem to really have hit it off. This might be a very fun summer for the two of them…

NATALIE

You’re repugnant. Vera is still a child, and I’m sure he wouldn’t be interested in her anyway. And what the hell does any of this have to do with my ‘predicament’?

SASCHA

Well, I was thinking back here, listening to all your yapping, and realizing, ‘You know, I really could use a hand around my house’ and it dawned on me; you could petition a marriage proposal from me to the girl, and maybe even do what you can to convince that it’s a good idea!

NATALIE

Vera?? Marry you?? I honestly couldn’t imagine it. She’s my ward! The child relies on me for guidance and support!

SASCHA

What if there was a horse for your estate? Would that sweeten the deal?

Alex and Vera walk past the window, arm in arm, laughing together.

NATALIE

Actually, my husband was just saying that we need a horse… let me see what I can do.

 

Alex and Vera enter the garden, Sascha disappears back into the bushes.

 

NATALIE

Vera, come with me, we need to gather up the lace.

Vera’s jaw drops, her posture slumps. She does not want to gather the lace again. Natalie and Vera walk together into the sitting room and start collecting all the doilies and lighting candles. Alex is left in the garden.

NATALIE

So...you’re 18 now, right? What a powerful age to be.

VERA

Yes, why?

NATALIE

Oh, I was just reflecting, you know… I was 20 when I married my husband, and I was thinking back to that time… say, do you ever consider a future as someone’s wife?

Vera laughs incredulously, but quickly stops when she realizes Natalie herself is someone’s wife

VERA

Oh, I just don’t think I’ve met anyone who makes me think of those kinds of things.

NATALIE

No? Not even…

Natalie peers over Vera’s shoulder into the garden, expecting to see Sascha but there is only Alex there, picking raspberries again.

VERA

Who, Alex??

Vera blushes

NATALIE

What!? NO! I was thinking more like, out there… someone in the world… you never met anyone that makes you feel like settling down into a nice home?

VERA

Honestly, no, ma’am.

NATALIE

Well, it’s a beautiful life! You’re missing out! I’ll keep my eyes peeled for you. Perhaps I can put you in touch with an older man, someone with land, or animals.. that would really set you up for success over time!

VERA

I’m sorry ma’am, but that’s ridiculous! It’s going to take a lot more than livestock for me to marry someone!

NATALIE

That’s what you say now, but once you’re old, and horseless, you’ll know I was looking out for you in this moment! And stop calling me ma’am! I’m young enough to be your sister.

 Vera is baffled, Natalie is irritated. Her husband enters, Michael follows shortly after. Natalie gets up to greet her husband with a kiss on the cheek.

NATALIE

Hello dearest. Good news, I think I may have secured us a horse. Doesn’t that sound nice?

HUSBAND

Very nice! How did you secure that?

NATALIE

Oh, I have my ways….

Michael, eavesdropping, perks up at this, but then Alex enters with a basket of raspberries. Natalie approaches him, takes the raspberries and hands them to Vera to hand out to the audience. She does so, using small tongs to place two berries in front of each audience member. Alex watches her and can tell she’s upset. Natalie links her arm into his, drags him in the opposite direction of Vera, who exits through the garden.

NATALIE

Alex, please meet my wonderful husband, he’s the head of this estate and the farmland out back. I was telling him all about the kite you built with Kolya, and maybe we could see if there are any tools or  craft supplies for you out in the shed. Doesn’t that sound like a good idea, dearest?

The two break off, have quiet side conversation. Natalie approaches Michael.

NATALIE

It feels like ages since I last saw you. How was that math lesson?

MICHAEL

It was just fine… the boy isn’t exactly on fire with passion for mathematics...

NATALIE

Oh, who is?

MICHAEL

I am!

NATALIE

Oh! Right.... Well, I’m glad that you are, otherwise you’d be an awful tutor for the boy.

MICHAEL

I never will understand why you love tormenting me so… also, what’s all this about a horse?

NATALIE

Well, I’ll never understand why you ask so many questions. Let’s just say I have found a unique opportunity with a livestock owner that I feel compelled to pursue. I’ll leave it at that. But this horse will make all the difference for my husband and whatever it is that he does out there all day. Say, why don’t we celebrate? It’s not exactly a done deal yet, of course, but let’s at least toast to the idea of a horse!

Natalie raises the vodka bottle, audiences are prompted to signify which shot they want, and that they should try chasing the shots with the raspberries Vera put out if they haven’t eaten them yet.

ALEX

I am not toasting to the idea of a horse.

MICHAEL

I’ll have to agree with you on that one.

NATALIE

Ok, then, sour puss, why don’t you find something to toast to?

INTERLUDE II

Housekeepers pour preferred shots for everyone. Michael now wanders around, mingling with audience members, finds someone to talk to about tortured hearts and love unrequited. He eventually finds something dire to toast to, and the room toasts and takes the shot together. Michael slams his shot, and immediately pours another one. Natalie goes up to comfort him, but he quickly exits the room.

HUSBAND

Well, that was delicious. Alex, would you like to see my tool shed?

ALEX

Yes, sir!

They exit through the garden, Natalie exits through the sitting room. The estate has retired for lunch. 

INTERMISSION

Lights come up, housekeepers enter. HK1 turns off record player and starts playing live music (Guitar, fiddle, ukulele, etc.) HK2 speaks to audience about the personal scavenger hunt in their program: Each program has a hint that leads to a second hint somewhere in the set that then leads to a special trinket the audience member can take home. Trinkets and hints and marked with the number of the person’s program. In addition to encouraging audiences to snoop through the sitting room and garden for their trinket, intermission also includes vodka bar, small snacks, and continuous live music, either from the housekeepers, or additional musicians if collaborators are interested. After 30 minutes, live music stops, lights return and audience is ushered to their seats. Act II begins.

 

ACT II

 

Vera and Sascha enter. Vera lays out the lace while Sascha puts on a new record.

SASCHA

You’re so good at laying out that lace, Vera

VERA

Well, yeah. Natalie makes me do it all the time… Honestly, it’s pretty irritating at this point

SASCHA

Don’t talk like that! It’s good practice for when you’re holding down the home for someone else… someone special.

VERA

So you think my life is just laying down lace as practice to lay lace for someone else? You old people are all the same!

SASCHA

I’m not old! I’m old enough to be your husband!

VERA

Old enough to be my father!

SASCHA

That’s very normal!

VERA

No, it’s not!!

 

Natalie rushes into the room, aware of the yelling between the two.

 

NATALIE

Hey, you two! What’s going on? What’s all the fuss?

 

SASCHA

Oh, Vera is just bored with laying lace, that’s all

VERA

Under her breath.That’s hardly what the fuss is...

 

NATALIE

Vera, if you didn’t want to lay the lace you could have just told me! I can have someone else do it. Maybe Michael or something…

 

Vera shoves the basket of remaining doilies into Natalie’s hands and storms off into the garden, out the door

SASCHA

So, how close do you think you are to securing that marriage agreement with her?

Vera storms past window

NATALIE

I really don’t know what to tell you, Sascha. Half the time you’re paying too close attention, and the other half of the time you’re completely oblivious. I don’t even know what you said to her, but I’ll try my best to remedy the situation.

Natalie exits through garden. Sascha is left alone in the sitting room, Michael enters.

 

SASCHA

Michael! I need your help.

MICHAEL

Great. What can I do?

SASCHA

It’s no secret you’re very close with Natalie, right?

MICHAEL

Well, I don’t know about that…I’m just as close to her as the rest of the staff here...

SASCHA

Oh, that’s absolute nonsense. We all see how close you two are. But that’s neither here nor there. Do you think you could do what you can to convince her that I’m a good partner for Vera? I’ve been trying to get her to secure a marriage deal for between the girl and myself, but I may or may not have fudged things up just now.

MICHAEL

Wait, between you and Vera? The child??

SASCHA

She’s barely a child at this point. You people are so concerned with her age, but you don’t consider her future!

MICHAEL

Well, I don’t…I can’t even... what can I even do? What could possibly convince Natalie to send off her ward to the first available bachelor?

SASCHA

Well, for one, there’s a horse on the table…

MICHAEL

So, that’s what all that horse talk was about…

SASCHA

And B. It will clear the way for a foxy little pursuit of hers…

MICHAEL

You’re an idiot.

SASCHA

Between ourselves, indeed! It’s not exactly news! But since when did only intelligent people get married? Regardless, you can’t forbid fools to marry.

MICHAEL

I can’t seem to forbid anyone from doing what I think is foolish…

SASCHA

I don’t quite know what that means, but please tell me you’ll do what you can to convince her to keep advocating in my interest…. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to go see a man about a horse.

Sascha exits. Natalie enters from sitting room door, exhausted.

NATALIE

Have you seen Vera?

MICHAEL

Scoffs. No. Why? You looking to tell her it’s time to pack her bags for Sascha’s estate?

NATALIE

Oh good lord. No! I’m just looking to talk about something very personal with her… Why do you say that? Were you just talking with that old fool Sascha?

MICHAEL

Obviously. He made it seem like marrying Vera off would clear the way for some secret goal of yours…

NATALIE

What, the horse?

MICHAEL

No! Not the horse! The boy— The tutor!

NATALIE

Oh. She blushes. So you’ve noticed? Since when?

MICHAEL

Since yesterday.

NATALIE

Oh.

MICHAEL

Remember earlier I spoke to you about the playful change in you? You’re laughing and romping around like a young girl, your eyes shining, your cheeks burning… even the mere mention of him turns you into a puddle!

He turns away from her

NATALIE

No, Michael… don’t turn away from me. I’ll be honest.

A pause

NATALIE

Has the boy infected me with his youth? Yes. Have I ever felt this young before? No. Will I cheat on my husband with him? I don’t know. Should Vera marry Sascha? I can’t say, but I’m starting to think that it’s not a bad idea… Why do you look so displeased??

Michael sighs, shakes his head, grabs a bottle of vodka.

MICHAEL

You truly don’t care for genuine love, do you?

NATALIE

What do any of us know about genuine love?

MICHAEL

Natalie. I know a lot about genuine love. I know—

Husband enters.

HUSBAND

I am so excited about this horse. Can you imagine how quickly it will take me to get home from the far fields?

NATALIE

Yes, dear. Very exciting. Speaking of which…

She swiftly exits. Husband and Michael awkwardly linger until both leave in separate directions, husband through sitting room, Michael through garden. Vera miserably trudges in, begrudgingly gathers the lace and goes into the garden, sits down and puts her head in her hands.

VERA

I can’t believe these people… I wonder if I’ll ever find a way out of this house without a ring on my finger...

 

Natalie enters, totally collected.

NATALIE

Vera,  darling. Are you mad at me?

VERA

No, I’m… just a little flustered. I’m sorry, ma’am.

NATALIE

Well, that’s good to hear. Vera, you’re not busy at the moment, right? I must have a conversation with you. A serious conversation.

Vera visibly sinks.

NATALIE

Vera,  you are a sensible girl. A woman, even. You must consider your future. You know that I love you like a sister, and my house will always be your home… but in other people’s eyes, you are an orphan and there may come a time you must live with strangers other than myself… are you trying to be alone forever? A mistress in your own house?

 

VERA

I’m afraid I don’t understand you…

NATALIE

Vera. Your hand is being asked for in marriage. I know it seems odd, it’s odd to me too… I don’t want to put any pressure on you but…

Vera starts crying.

NATALIE

Oh my god, you’re crying, why are you crying?

VERA

I’m just… it’s your decision… I’m completely in your power, ma’am.

NATALIE

No no no, you’re essentially my sister, I’m here to petition for you like you’re my sister… not because I’m in power of you…but what would your answer be to this suitor? That you’re far too young to be thinking of marriage?

VERA

Well… yes ma’am, I suppose so.

NATALIE

Don’t call me ma’am, one doesn’t say that to a sister, does she?

VERA

Well, no.

NATALIE

Ok, then!

VERA

So… no, sister, I don’t think I’m ready to be considering marriage… who is this suitor after all?

NATALIE

Do you truly want to know?

VERA

Well, yes! They’re asking for my hand in marriage after all!

NATALIE

You have a point there. Well, there’s no more concealing it, but our close friend Sascha is interested in taking you as his wife.

VERA

She laughs What! No. You’ve got to be joking…

NATALIE

I’m not. Why? Were you expecting someone else? Are you looking to be with someone else instead? You can tell me anything you know, I’m very good with secrets…

VERA

What?? No. I can’t...no, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that there’s no way you could expect me to marry that man… He’s so much older than me, I don’t even know how to talk to him!

NATALIE

Who needs a husband for conversation!? And anyway, he’s in the prime of his life! Horses to spare!

VERA

People don’t marry for horses, Natalie. People marry for love! Didn’t you marry your husband for love?

 NATALIE

Yes, I suppose you could say that…  but we were also very young and I was intrigued by his large plot of land. There are a lot of reasons to partner with someone else.

VERA

I’m sorry ma’am… er, sister. I just don’t think we see things the same way.

NATALIE

Don’t be sorry! I understand what you’re saying. I must admit that I myself wouldn’t have liked to see his puffy old face next to your fresh little one. Sascha will be refused, and that’s the end of it.

VERA

I’m relieved.

NATALIE

I’m glad you can be honest with me. You can tell me anything! Anything at all. Actually… I couldn’t help but notice you blushing earlier at the mention of another suitor… so, if you feel like telling me anything at all, you absolutely can.

VERA

Why are you convinced that there’s anything else I have to say? I’m not in love with Alex if that’s what you’re asking.

NATALIE

As a matter of fact, that is what I’m asking. Are you sure? He is such a wonderful boy, I don’t see how anyone could resist him...

VERA

I think I just want to be alone.

She gets up and goes into the raspberry bush.

 

 NATALIE

She loves him. It’s clear. What is my problem? Trying to auction the girl off to that old fart. I feel poisoned. Poisoned by jealousy. Poisoned by love! I love Alex… this is the first time I’ve been in love, truly… he must go away. And Michael too. It’s time I’ve pulled myself together. She puts her head in her hands.

Michael enters.

MICHAEL

Natalie.

She doesn’t respond.

MICHAEL

Well, it appears your conversation with Vera went well… no horse?

NATALIE

Who is it? Oh, it’s you. What have you come for?

MICHAEL

Natalie, I wanted to apologize for earlier, I was unspeakably stupid and rude to you. Forgive me. I was overcome with jealousy, and I took it out on you. But now I understand my position, and I crave only one thing— your forgiveness. He sits down next to her. Look at me. Here I am, your old friend. Let me be here as a support to you again, I won’t judge your love or devotion ever again.

Natalie looks up.

NATALIE

Oh, I am sorry Michael. I’m afraid I didn’t hear a word you were saying.

MICHAEL

Sadly I said… I was asking you to forgive me for earlier. I was wondering if you still want me as your friend.

NATALIE

Michael, what is wrong with me?

MICHAEL

I guess… you’re in love.

NATALIE

I am! I am in love. But so is Vera. She loves him.

MICHAEL

        Did she tell you so?

NATALIE

Not with her words, no. But I can see it. And he likely loves her back… the young, submissive thing. Michael, tell me what to do.

MICHAEL

Natalie, I’ll tell you what to do, but please don’t suspect my motives. My desire to help you is completely selfless.

She takes his hands

NATALIE

        Go on, go on…

 MICHAEL

        You don’t doubt me?

NATALIE

        No! Tell me what to do!

MICHAEL

Well then, listen. You must send the boy away. Only two days on the estate and everything has devolved to madness. A full summer would destroy you, especially if these children love each other the way you think they do.

NATALIE

I was thinking the same thing… he must be sent away. And what about you, Michael? Will you stay around?

A long pause.

MICHAEL

Me? I… Maybe it’s time I go, too. If he is to leave for your happiness, perhaps I must leave for my own.

NATALIE

Michael… I’ve sunk so low that I was almost ready to marry off this poor young girl, an orphan entrusted to me by her mother, to marry her off to a stupid, ridiculous old man. I couldn’t do it, Michael. The words died on my lips the moment she laughed at my suggestion. Yet I persisted, and now I’ve nearly pushed away every friend I have here.

MICHAEL

You have your husband, still.

NATALIE

Incredulously.  My husband! Are you taunting me?

MICHAEL

        I would never… Natalie, I need to leave this house. I think I’ll leave today.

NATALIE

Michael, I’ll be lost without you!

MICHAEL

        Natalie…

Husband enters with Alex.

HUSBAND

To Alex That was my opinion all along… Noticing Natalie and Michael, very close and holding hands. What’s this? What’s all this about?

Natalie looks up, quickly exits to the sitting room and sits with her needlework.

HUSBAND

        To Michael Natalie’s not well?

MICHAEL

        What gives you that impression?

HUSBAND

Well, she appeared to be crying… and you appeared to be comforting her. What was that all about?

 

 MICHAEL

        It’s nothing, I assure you.

HUSBAND

Nothing? It sure didn’t look like nothing. I’ll go and figure this out.

He starts to leave, Michael stops him.

MICHAEL

It really would be best if you left her in peace. I promise to explain it all very soon to you, I promise, but please tell me you won’t disturb her.

 

 HUSBAND

If you say so, but this is all very odd. She’s never behaved like this before. Alex, let’s go. There seems to be some kind of secret between Michael and my wife, and they need privacy to sort it out before indulging us in the reason.

MICHAEL

        I assure you, sir.

HUSBAND

        Oh, I’m not worried at all…

Alex and Husband leave through garden.

 

 MICHAEL

Calling to Natalie in the sitting room. Natalie, come back.

NATALIE

Returning to the garden. What did they say?

MICHAEL

Well, your husband is under the impression that you’re upset about something… and he wasn’t too pleased with my efforts to convince him otherwise… you really should speak with your husband

NATALIE

I hate talking to him.

MICHAEL

I promised him we would explain what the issue is, so someone is going to have to talk to him.

NATALIE

        So what are you going to tell him?

MICHAEL

I’ll come up with something. But that’s not my concern right now. My concern is finding a solution for your misery.

NATALIE

        I don’t need you to solve my misery.

MICHAEL

Just moments ago you pleaded that you would be lost without me!

NATALIE

Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about… maybe I’ve made a big mess about nothing. I don’t love the boy, I’m just poisoned by his youth, his energy. I should just let the children be happy together and we can return to the way things were just yesterday. Michael, would you please just leave me be?

Michael shakes his head, gets up and exits the garden. Shortly after, Alex enters.

ALEX

        Ma’am… are you feeling well? It seems you were pretty upset just now.

NATALIE

Can you please not call me ma’am? It disgusts me.

ALEX

        Ok, Natalie. What is the matter with you?

NATALIE

The girl told me everything

ALEX

Wait, what?

NATALIE

Vera. She told me everything. That she loves you, and I see that you share that same love for her.

ALEX

I truly have no idea what you’re referring to. Vera isn’t in love with me.

NATALIE

It’s clear, how could she resist? You’ve brought a light to this estate we’ve never seen before.

ALEX

        I can’t even begin to understand what you’re on about.

NATALIE

Really? You expect me to believe that you haven’t noticed the girl’s feelings towards you?

ALEX

Vera has feelings for me? I simply don’t know what to say… I really don’t. I’ve treated Vera just as I’ve treated…

NATALIE

Just as you’ve treated everyone else? A brief silence. However that may be, the point is that the girl loves you. So now I have to ask you, what do you plan on doing about it?

ALEX

        My plan? About the girl’s feelings for me?

NATALIE

Yes.

ALEX

This is all so strange and unexpected, Natalie.

NATALIE

Yes, I know. I admit I haven’t managed this well. But the girl is my ward, well she has been her whole life, and I am responsible for her future, her happiness. She’s young, but not for long. But if you are truly disinterested in her heart, and want to do what you can to protect her happiness for the sake of the estate, I have faith that you’ll act differently… no more private walks or laughter in the garden.

ALEX

I must confess… everything you’ve just told me seems utterly strange, I don’t dare doubt what  you’re telling me, but you must understand how absolutely absurd this all is after only two days in your home.

NATALIE

Love is absurd, Alex.

ALEX

After a silence. Natalie… I see now what I must do. I can’t remain here on your estate for the summer.

NATALIE

Flustered. That’s hardly what I was suggesting…

ALEX

Natalie, you’ve been painfully frank with me just now. So I must be frank with you… I do love Vera, our friendship has been the finest gift of your estate. But if she feels for me the way you tell me, I cannot stay around and risk deceiving her. Maybe I should speak with her first, I want to say my piece, and undo whatever damage my friendship has already caused her

NATALIE

I hardly intended you to leave us! I was simply looking to protect her heart, and yours. I don’t know if it’s exactly a good idea for you to talk about this with her, she’s so young, and tender. It might be too much.

ALEX

Natalie, I know Vera. She has a strong heart, and will know that I’m coming from a place of sincerity. Now, please. Let me go.

He exits.

NATALIE

It seems every time I open my damn mouth, these men get more and more frustrating. But at least he’s not in love with her! That’s a relief. But I shouldn’t have bent the truth like that… the girl never admitted her true feelings for the boy. What right do I have to go around telling everyone of the girl’s feelings? Why am I so frantic? Sighs. And how fearlessly he is to approach her, talk to her, set things right. He is a fine man… the finest. If I didn’t love him before, I do now. He really must be sent away. If he stays, I feel I would go too far, I would lose all my self respect… He must go or I will be lost!

She exits through the study.

INTERLUDE III

HK1 and HK2 enter, banter about how awkward things are, and distribute snuff boxes to each table. Scented with essential oils, the boxes are passed around in an effort to cut the tension of the previous scene. A goodbye card to Alex is passed around for everyone to sign, and an audience member is chosen to lay out the lace since Vera isn’t around to do it.

Vera enters as the final doilies are being laid out.

VERA

To the audience member who laid the lace. Oh my god. You kind, benevolent soul. I simply couldn’t muster the energy to lay that godforsaken lace. Today has been so exhausting… She gives them a special token of her thanks, and takes a hit of the snuff box.

Alex enters.

ALEX

Verochka.

VERA

Alexei.

They embrace.

ALEX

Vera. I can tell you’re upset. I just spoke with Natalie...

VERA

Rolling her eyes. Natalie…

ALEX

Yes, I know. I hate to bring more stress into your day, but I need to talk to you about something.

VERA

I swear to god, if it’s the topic of marriage, I’m going to scream.

ALEX

Shocked Marriage?! No, not at all. Listen, Natalie tells me that you confessed to her that you have feelings for me… feelings beyond friends that enjoy each other’s company.

VERA

I can’t believe this. Alex, I love you like a sibling I’ve never had. Yes, Kolya and I are very close, but you have shown me kindness I didn’t even know was possible... I was orphaned young, Natalie and her husband kindly brought me into their care -- which I truly appreciate-- but all of a sudden she seems more concerned with auctioning me off to the highest bidder than advocating on my behalf

ALEX

So you’re not in love with me? Romantically?

VERA

No! Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that way for someone…  

ALEX

Knowingly I know what you mean. Romantic energy doesn’t seem to fill anyone up the way friendship, or knowledge does.

VERA

Nodding Can I confess something to you? Friend to friend?

ALEX

Absolutely.

VERA

I want to leave this estate. Today. I want to go to the city, and speak for myself for once.  

ALEX

Well, then I ought to confess this to you, Vera. I’m leaving the estate today. Natalie has put me into such a position that I cannot stay here.

VERA

She loves you, you know.

ALEX

What?? Not in the slightest. What is with you people and the word Love? You throw it around like it means nothing… at this point I doubt anything in this house has meaning.

VERA

That may be true, but as awful her definition of love is, I can see it in her eyes-- she loves you the only way she knows how; miserably. And now she’s jealous of me, and our friendship.

ALEX

Then all the more reason to leave this house. Would you come to Petersburg with me?

VERA

        Do you mean that?

ALEX

Absolutely. Imagine the look on her face when we tell her that we’re running away together.

They laugh together, she sighs and rests her head on his shoulder.

ALEX

I’ll go prepare my things

He exits through the garden, Natalie enters the sitting room.

VERA

        Natalie, I need to speak with you.

NATALIE

        Vera! I was looking for you. Condescendingly I need to speak with you about Alex.

VERA

Natalie. Just stop. Stop talking to me like I’m a child. Especially after these past few days, enduring your social torture, I am just as much of a woman as you are.

NATALIE

Taken aback. Vera… I don’t know where this is coming from.

VERA

Yes, you do. I am eternally grateful for the support you’ve given me, but your scheming has become too much. I don’t need you to petition on my behalf anymore. You are not my sister. If anything you are my rival.

NATALIE

Taken aback Vera… you’re forgetting yourself…

VERA

Perhaps I am. But who has driven me to do this? I don’t know where I’ve found the courage to speak to you like this, perhaps it’s out of pure desperation. If you’ve sought out to trample me, crush me, you’ve completely succeeded. But I spoke with Alex, and I told him everything.

NATALIE

What exactly have you told him?

VERA

What? Why, everything. That you tried to worm everything out of me without giving yourself away… but you did. You always do.

NATALIE

Dismissively Vera, this is mad talk. Come into the house.

VERA

Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me you don’t love him… I told him that I am not in love with him, you know that right? You’ve been telling everyone, it seems, how I feel, when in reality you’re secretly confessing your own feelings.

Natalie is silent, Alex enters with his bag. Vera exits.

ALEX

        So…

NATALIE

Alex… how are you?

ALEX

Um, just fine. Listen, Natalie. I know you think you’re in love with me, for whatever reason. So let’s get that out of the way. What I’m more concerned with is why you’ve treated poor Vera like this?

NATALIE

Alex… I do love you! I loved you the moment I met you. I’m not going to try and justify my behavior, but now I’ve confessed myself to you, and you can forgive me… Yes, I was jealous of Vera, yes, I took advantage of my position and tried marrying her off to Sascha…

ALEX

Wait, you what?

NATALIE

That’s not what I’m confessing to you! I’m confessing my love, and I understand that you must leave our home… You’re probably very uncomfortable by what I’ve just told you, and you probably want to get away as soon as possible.

He remains silent.

NATALIE

You don’t have anything to say? I understand that. What could you say? It’s a painful position to be in, to receive a declaration of love one doesn’t return… Believe me when I tell you, that when I say I love you, it’s not a move in a game… you can go without saying a word to me. Not even a goodbye She puts her head in her hands. Goodbye, forever.

ALEX

Well, it’s obvious that I cannot stay, but please don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m not going to lie, I was afraid of you at first… I’m still afraid of you now… you tell me that you love me, so much so that you push  away your closest companions in this house… I can’t believe I’m speaking so boldly to you.

NATALIE

Alex… please stay.

ALEX

        What??

NATALIE

Stay, let God be our judge! She grabs his hands.

ALEX

        You are making literally no sense.

He leaves through the garden. She lingers for a moment, and leaves through the sitting room. Husband enters with housekeepers, discussing the mystery between Natalie and Michael.

HUSBAND

I know the two are close, but it’s unheard of for a wife to keep secrets with her child’s tutor.

HK

        Unheard of?

HUSBAND

        Well, it should be!

Husband talks to audience members about it, finds someone to admit to him that Michael is in love with Natalie.

HUSBAND

        Right under my nose!

Michael enters, and husband immediately makes eye contact with him.

HUSBAND

        Michael, I think it’s time to explain the great mystery from earlier

MICHAEL

        I wouldn’t exactly call it a mystery…

HUSBAND

        No, I wouldn’t either.

MICHAEL

        She was simply emotional, you know… even when women are the happiest…

HUSBAND

Michael, stop it. We can’t go on like this. Takes his arm. After all, we’re old friends, you’ve known me since we were children. I am not good at being devious, and you’ve always been perfectly open with me. Let me ask you something. You love my wife, don’t you? You understand me, right? Is your love for her… I guess, what I’m trying to say… Do you love my wife in a way that might be hard to admit to her husband?

MICHAEL

After a silence. Yes. I love your wife… in that way.

HUSBAND

Michael. Thank you for being frank with me. But what do we do now? You’re obviously more intelligent than I am, so what do you propose we do about this situation?

MICHAEL

As a matter of fact, I’ve thought the whole thing over.

HUSBAND

Well, and…?

MICHAEL

I must go… I am going away.

HUSBAND

You think so? Leave completely?

MICHAEL

Yes, sir. For the honor of Natalie and my own happiness, I’m afraid I must. I’m prepared to go today.

HUSBAND

That’s… very serious. But I suppose you’re right.

The two embrace. Alex and Vera enter with Vera’s bags.  

ALEX

What’s all this?

HUSBAND

Michael is leaving.

VERA

So are we!

MICHAEL

What?? Both of you?

ALEX

        Yes. Natalie has put us both in such a position that we can no longer stay.

HUSBAND

        Wait, what’s this?

MICHAEL

        I know how that goes.

HUSBAND

        Why do I feel like I’m still missing something here?

Sascha enters.

VERA

        It’s too much to explain.

SASCHA

Hi everyone! What’s with all the baggage?

HUSBAND

        It appears everyone is leaving today.

SASCHA

You don’t say! I was just coming to tell you all that I’m retiring to my estate for the season as well. Do you fine folks need a ride to the train station? My carriage will be leaving shortly.

ALEX

        That would be most helpful!

MICHAEL

        Yes, thank you Sascha.

Vera rolls her eyes. Natalie enters.

NATALIE

        Oh! You’re all here. Everyone. Wonderful. Um… what are we having for dinner?

VERA

        I don’t care. Natalie, I’m leaving for Petersburg with Alex today. Right now, even.

NATALIE

        Alex! Is this true?

ALEX

        Yes, ma’am. I’m afraid so.

Michael approaches her, takes her hand.

MICHAEL

Natalie. I’m leaving too. It’s about time I put my foot down, and find fulfilment in something other than the empty promises of your friendship.

Natalie is baffled.

SASCHA

        Well… it’s been a lovely weekend here with you all. Shall we go?

HK

        Not without a proper goodbye!

INTERLUDE IV

Housekeepers give Alex his goodbye card, gather everyone together with the audience, pull party poppers and take a group Polaroid photo. Final shots are poured and they toast:

HK

        To permanent goodbyes!

They all take the shot. Michael, Alex, Vera and Sascha exit through the garden, and walk past the window. Husband silently looks at his wife, kisses her forehead, and exits through the sitting room, followed by the housekeepers. Natalie sits, resumes her needlework, as Kolya enters and gathers the lace for the final time. Kolya exits. Natalie is alone.

END